From Globe and Mail, Thursday, Jun. 25, 2009 02:20PM EDT
Robert Pickton’s conviction of second-degree murder of six women from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside was upheld today by the B.C. Appeal Court in a ruling that is expected to go for a final decision by the Supreme Court of Canada.
In a two-to-one decision, the court ruled that the trial judge’s response to a jury question after six days of deliberations was adequate and did not compromise Mr. Pickton’s right to a fair trial.
“The judge acted correctly in providing the jury with instruction that embraced the law . . ,” stated Mr. Justice Richard Low, who wrote the 98-page majority decision with Chief Justice Lance Finch concurring.
The ruling leaves the fate of 20 additional murder charges against Mr. Pickton in doubt. Crown prosecutors have previously said they would not proceed with another trial on the 20 charges if Mr. Pickton’s conviction was upheld upon appeal.
The sensational trial over 11 months in 2007 attracted international attention, with the explicit testimony of several drug addicts and prostitutes, and extensive evidence of unfathomable depravity.
The severed heads of Sereena Abotsway, Mona Wilson and Andrea Joesbury were found on Mr. Pickton’s farm across the street from a commercial development in the Vancouver suburb of Port Coquitlam. The partial jawbones of Marnie Frey and Brenda Wolfe and hanbd bones of Georgina Papin were also discovered on the property.
Mr. Pickton, 60, was found guilty of killing the six women on Dec. 9, 2007 and sentenced to 25 years without parole, which is the maximum sentence by law for second-degree murder. The women were dependent on drugs and worked as prostitutes in one of Canada’s most desolate neighbourhoods.
Mr. Pickton’s appeal was based solely on the argument that the Crown had relied on the theory that he acted alone in the killings. However the judge told the jury that they could convict Mr. Pickton if they were convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Pickton was “an active participant,” suggesting that others were involved.
Mr. Pickton’s lawyer Gil McKinnon argued that the instructions had been in error in law.
Judge Low wrote that the final instruction “adequately informed the jury of the law . . .that had to be considered.”
In the minority decision, Mr. Justice Ian Donald wrote that the trial judge had made an error that amounted to a miscarriage of justice and he would order a new trial. He said the trial judge’s comments came at a time when there was nothing Mr. Pickton’s defence could do to respond satisfactorily.
In a second ruling yesterday, the appeal court unanimously accepted the Crown’s appeal of a decision by the trial judge to sever the 26 counts of first degree murder against Mr. Pickton into six and 20 as well as errors of law in three rulings on evidence and errors in the jury charge.
However the prosecution told the court that a new trial on 26 first-degree murder charges may serve no useful purpose, as Mr. Pickton has already been sentenced to the maximum term of imprisonment available under Canadian law.
The three judges agreed to the Crown request to stay the order for a new trial until a final decision is made on any appeal that Mr. Pickton may make to the Supreme Court of Canada.
“If Mr. Pickton remains convicted of six counts of second degree murder after all appeals are concluded, there would be no useful purpose served by a retrial on those same offences as charges of first-degree murder,” Chief Justice Lance Finch wrote, with Judge Donald and Judge Low concurring.
“Such a trial would impose further enormous demands on financial and judicial resources to achieve a final practical disposition that has already been arrived at on the first trial. It would be manifestly redundant and unfair to compel such a result,” Judge Finch stated.
A court order prohibits the media from reporting the details of the errors in law.
More than 60 women have disasppeared form the Downtown Eastside in the years before Mr. Pickton was arrested in 2002. The police took 1,500 statements during the investigation. About 300 people were involved in the search of his property.